Silent Treatment

Silent Treatment

Silence is not always golden – at least not when you cannot read someone’s mind. You are, however, expected to be able to perform telepathy in order to know what the other person wants even though they are not saying a single word.

You attempt to ask the person what is going on and the person replies, “nothing”, or simply looks at you, says not a single word, and proceeds with what they want to do or were doing before your “interruption”. You are trying to engage the person because the person has been quieter than usual and it is an unsettling feeling for either or both of you. If there was an argument that happened before the “cold war”, taking some time to calm or cool down is a common aftermath, if not expected. If you had done something that upset the person, you may assume that is the reason why the person is giving you the cold shoulder.

After a couple of hours, you try to approach the person again, hoping that they have simmered down by that time, or that they would be in a better headspace to interact with you. Except, they still do not seem to be ready or interested to do so, and hence you decide to give them some time over the next few days or so.

Perhaps you waited for a day or two, perhaps a week or two, before you reach out to the person again. While what is considered a reasonable period of time to wait for the other person to ease off giving the silent treatment can be subjective, anything beyond a week can lead to confusion, anger, and resentment1. The person giving the other person the silent treatment such as igoring their presence or attempts to communicate may develop negative emotions further and continue to engage in behaviours that do not bring value to their relationship with the other person. The other person who is subjected to the silent treatment may eventually grow impatient with the mental and physical absences of the person, and become angry or resentful2 after some time.


Case (*names have been changed to protect the identities of individuals)

Siming mutes herself whenever she senses or gets into a conflict. Conflicts simply scare her and she can sometimes start tearing up even though she has not fully understood what the conflict is all about – or if it is even a conflict. At one of her work meetings, Siming and her colleagues had to discuss and decide on how a client’s issue could be resolved. Siming’s colleagues asked her to get the ball rolling on the discussion and Siming requested for someone else to take lead. Siming’s colleagues insisted that she gets started and when Siming tried again to pass the baton to someone else, her colleagues joked that this could be one of the issues. Siming felt accused and blamed. She tried to explain herself and that she did not meant to create any problems. No one said anything after that. Siming felt there was tension in the air and tried to explain again that she did not meant to make anyone uncomfortable. Siming’s colleagues replied, “it’s ok” and a colleague went ahead to present their ideas. Siming felt she has let everyone down and decided to keep quiet throughout the meeting, which only frustrated her colleagues when they tried to get her to brainstorm with them. 


Giving a person the silent treatment can take on a sinister tone if the person doing it meant to hurt the other person, do it for more than a week or without indicating how much time they need, blatantly ignore the person or uses it as a pressure tactic to get the other person to do what they want3. Over time, the person subjected to the silent treatment can start to doubt themselves, develop a lower self-esteem and so on.

There are many ways of addressing the silent treatment if you are the one subjected to it and some of these include:

  • Stating your observation of the situation that is happening. Focus on the facts. For example, “I notice you have not been talking to me at dinners.”
  • Let the other person know how you feel. For example, “I am confused by your silence.”
  • Apologise if you know you have done something to upset the other person. You could also clarify with them what they are affected by. For example, “I would like to know if you are upset at me for missing your grandmother’s party that night.”


If you are the person giving the silent treatment, consider the following:

  • Allowing the other person to approach you and seek clarity on the situation. For example, “I do notice that I haven’t been speaking much with you and I know you want an explanation.”
  • Let them know how you are impacted by their actions if they are the cause of it. For example, “I was really upset when you kept interrupting me the other day and I felt unheard.”
  • Acknowledge the other person’s feelings as they share them with you. Let them know what you would like for the time being. For example, “I understand that you are confused by my silence. Right now, I am not in a good space to talk to you and I would like to have some time to process this by myself.”


While silence is needed at times of chaos, it can be communicated for relationships or the person to be functional. There will be times where a person simply cannot communicate anything or wants to be silent but there are ways to navigate and address these more effectively for all parties involved.



  1. Relationships Australia NSW. (2022). Is giving your partner the silent treatment ever ok? Retrieved from
  2. Austin, D. (2022). Psychology of silent treatment abuse. Retrieved from
  3. Medical News Today. (2022). Is the silent treatment a form of abuse? Retrieved from
Call Now Button
× How can I help you?